The first book in a new hockey romance series by Ellie Malouff
A Second Chance Romance
Between Christopher, the captain of the Colorado Storm, and Summer, the girl he left behind.
Christopher doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t play hockey in his small town of Fossebridge, Minnesota. He’s made it big, scoring the game-winning goal for the cup championship and was league MVP. Passions include: owning goalies, kohlrabi smoothies, and Summer Gunderson.
Summer is a southern girl who moved to the small town Fossebridge, Minnesota at age 10 after her father died. Works at her momma’s diner and helps her best friend produce the Fossebridge Gazette. Passions include: video arts, jelly donuts, and being there for her friends and family.
Read the First Chapter of Inertia
The Biscuit in the Basket diner is completely packed, with a twenty-minute wait. For a weekday, it’s only ever this busy on the Fourth of July, since a lot of locals like to come in after the parade and get some of Momma’s special red, white, and blue waffles. But it’s not the Fourth of July. That was a week ago.
Even over the excited chatter of our customers, I can hear the distinct clatter of a coffee cup dropping and the gasps of a few patrons. I weave around the tables and dash behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, Summer,” Mr. Wilkins says as coffee wells on the countertop, not yet spilling onto the floor. I pull a well-used rag out of my back pocket and start to soak it up.
“It’s fine,” I assure him, knowing that he’s been having a hard time lately with his Parkinson’s.
“And on Christopher’s day, too."
“Don’t you worry about it. Are you going to the event today?” I ask, knowing full well what his answer will be. It’s everyone’s answer.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he replies and fiddles with this 36th Fighter Squadron cap. He was one of twenty-five African American Air Force pilots to fight in Korea. He wears his cap with pride every day, as he should.
“Want a fresh breakfast?”
“No, dear,” he says, looking down at his soggy eggs. He barely had a chance at it.
“Nonsense, it’s on the house.”
“You said it yourself, it’s Christopher’s day.” I scribble his order down and pop it into the ticket holder. From the kitchen, Momma grabs it and gives me a quick nod and knowing smile.
“When are you getting out of here?” she asks me through the window as she cracks eggs.
“Ten minutes. I’ve already got my equipment packed. Margie is here with her niece. I think they’ve got a handle on it.”
“Great,” Momma replies and turns around to the stove.
“Give it a few minutes, Mr. Wilkins, she’s working on it,” I tell him and refill his coffee.
Over by the door, a pack of boys comes in and everyone in the diner looks at them with huge smiles on their face. I think I’m even doing it. They don’t have to wear their Fossebridge High School letter jackets to be recognized in our town. If hope was light, they would be blinded by it now, especially with how everyone is looking at them today.
It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I was that age, but I guess it has been eight years since I graduated high school. We believed in our high school hockey team just as much back then. Every pep rally, every game, every high, and every low. Even when we had our most tragic loss, the town of Fossebridge, Minnesota was there. It’s no wonder people took off work today.
My smartwatch starts to vibrate and I know it’s time to go because I can’t be late for this. Before I can take a step toward the door, there’s a text from my best friend Tia, who also happens to be my boss at the Telegram. She’s ordering me to get my butt to the airport. Her control issues really need to be checked at some point. I reply back with the eye roll emoji and go to get cleaned up. The last thing I should do is show up with frizzy hair and dried jam on my hands. I pull my hair down from the messy bun I’ve been sporting and run a small comb through it. Then I put on some of my favorite vanilla lotion, give my cheeks a quick pinch, and get on the road to the airport.
The drive takes a half hour and I pass the time listening to one of my favorite playlists. The one that’s perfect for this time of year, when the fireflies illuminate the trees by the lake at night and the humidity just might kill you, but you still get cold in the mornings. Everyone here loves the winter when the lake freezes over and you can drop a puck on the ice. Not me. Maybe it’s being named after the season, but I love these long summer days.
It’s hard to find a parking spot, but I make do. I pull out all my video equipment from the trunk of my beat-up hatchback and haul it over to the terminal. There’s a hoard of fans and photographers camped around the baggage claim, so it’s not exactly hard to find where I’m going. I locate my kind and head straight for the men with the video cameras.
“Mind if I set up here?” I ask one of the guys wearing Sports World credentials.
“Not at all,” he answers and winks at me. I flash him a polite smile, just grateful for space.
Like a pro, I strap on my stabilization vest and attach my camera to the arm, all the while feeling my new buddy’s eyes on me.
“Is that a DVX200?” he asks.
“Huh,” he says loud enough for all the other guys to hear.
I don’t stop the eye roll. He’s not looking at my face anyway. “Not what you were expecting?”
He gives me a funny look for calling him out. “Who you with?”
“Fossebridge Weekly Telegram,” I answer and show him my press badge. It’s the first time I’ve ever worn it. In fact, Tia and I made it just for today, because we certainly don’t need them in Fossebridge, where everyone already knows each other.
“How does a small-town paper afford a camera like that?”
“It’s my own.”
He chuckles under his breath, but I ignore it because the chatter dies down and people are starting to move around each other to look toward the door. My palms are slick, which is simply ridiculous. There’s no reason at all to be nervous, but I am. I’m totally nervous.
I have a job to do, so I film the crowd that’s come out, many I know and a lot I don’t. Their excitement is palpable, and it’s taking everything in me to not start bouncing up and down along with them. Some are holding signs and most are wearing number 21 on their backs. I wonder if they know what I know. I wonder if they remember that it wasn’t his number originally. That it belonged to Trey.
“He’s coming out,” some dude says to the crew beside me and they all lift up their cameras with little fanfare.
I turn my camera to the sliding glass door and hold my breath.
“Big Mac! Big Mac! Big Mac!” the crowd chants.
When the doors slide apart the crowd erupts in applause and hoots and hollers. I take two steps forward and zoom in on Fossebridge’s favorite son, Christopher MacCormack. The first thing I notice is that he’s beautifully clean-shaven, that nasty playoff beard gone until next April if they make it. He’s also cut his dark hair high and tight, no flow at all, probably to the disappointment of many across Minnesota. It’s nice to see. Really, really nice. I gulp and stay on track, starting to move to my left to get a shot of Christopher and the crowd in the same frame.
He’s followed by a gaggle of men, one of which is his dad, Peter, and two that are pushing a big chrome case right behind him. His mom, Nancy, is waiting with the crowd, as well as his older brother Gabe with his wife and kids.
Christopher waves to the crowd and then shoves his hands into his shorts pockets. Yes, he wore shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops to this, his big day back home. So typical that it makes me want to laugh, but I don’t want to ruin the video. On the plus side, the guy could use more sun since he’s been stuck in arenas for the better part of eight months. His calves, while so well sculpted, could blind the crowd. Not that I can talk.
“Hey everybody,” Christopher greets them. “Thanks for coming out.”
Friends from home approach him and the handshakes start. There’s a man, just shy of Christopher’s six foot and a few inches, by his side providing protection, which is truly laughable considering that Christopher is one of the fiercest forwards in professional hockey.
I continue to move, circling around this moment, capturing the very spirit of the thing. I’m not interested in reporting news. I’m interested in making this feel like it did as it was happening. Forever.
“So I don’t think you’re just here to see me,” Christopher goes on. “I think you want to see what’s in this trunk, yeah?”
Christopher’s fans cheer in the affirmative.
He takes a few steps back and approaches the men at the chrome case. “Gentlemen, if you would.”
They nod and one unlocks the case and unlatches the lid. Silver shines bright and my camera lens snaps right to it like it’s magnetic. I’m immediately dazzled, as is the crowd. Christopher picks up the cup and hoists it over his head. The crowd erupts as if they were seeing the Colorado Storm’s game-winning goal in the seventh game of the finals all over again. Christopher lowers the cup to his lips and kisses it like it’s his, because it is for the day, and I capture it perfectly.
When he lifts it back up over his head to the sound of even more cheering, he turns to face me straight on and I zoom in, not daring to look away from my eyepiece. His lips turn up into a slight smile and I see everything in his hazel eyes. There’s a sense of accomplishment, a big dose of pride, a little love, and sadness. This should be one of the happiest days of his life, but I know in my heart that it’s not. It could never be more than bittersweet.
Then Christopher does something that I will have to edit out later. He looks directly into my camera and mouths the word, “Hi.”
There’s nothing like being home, and being home today is extra special because I’ve brought the cup. Winning the cup was the culmination of all of the sacrifices and work and support and faith this town instilled in me. Nothing will quite feel like the moment when I hoisted it for the first time as captain, but bringing it home for Fossebridge, the town that made me who I am is a close second.
My mom arranged for a convertible to drive us down Main Street on the way to the high school for my speech. The streets were lined with people to see me holding the cup to my side like a girlfriend. She sure is sexy and all the things that most boys in this town dream about, but the cup doesn’t hold a candle to Summer Gunderson.
She’s moving around the auditorium, graceful as a cat, with a camera strapped to her body. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen her, but she’s just as I remembered. She’s still got the longest blond hair in town, and dimples that cut so deep they slay me. Her green eyes are as mischievous as ever. I’ve always been convinced that she sees things most people don’t notice and that’s probably what makes her a great videographer.
She’s filled out a little bit more and I like those curves. Too much. I can’t take my eyes off her. Well, I guess it’s good to know that some things never change.
There’s a slap on my back, snapping me out of my Summer spell. “Ready, son?” my dad asks.
I wipe my sweaty palms on my shorts because this would be a terrible time to drop the cup. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
As captain of the Colorado Storm, I’ve grown accustomed to public speaking, but this is different. These people know me too well. They remember when I peed my pants on the field trip to the town hall. They remember when I broke the window at the gas station with a wild slap shot when we’d already been told multiple times not to play in the parking lot. They remember when I got completely fucked up and passed out on Summer’s lawn. They remember practically everything about me. I wonder if they remember Trey that well.
Coach Kiogima finishes up a rousing introduction that has the crowd on their feet and cheering. It reminds me of our old pep rallies, although those usually took place on the rink. Now that would have been fun. I’m already itching for the ice.
“So let’s give a huge Fossebridge welcome to our own Christoper ‘Big Mac’ MacCormack,” my old high school coach shouts into the mic.
The crowd does not disappoint him. I pick up the cup, walk out on stage, and the volume goes up to game seven overtime levels. The rock song they used throughout the playoffs, blasts over the speakers, which I’ll probably never get tired of hearing.
After the first verse, I set the cup on the table and hug my old coach with a hearty slap on the back. He hands me the mic and leaves me alone to face my entire hometown and then some. My eyes dart around the auditorium and find Summer. She’s off to one side, her face hidden by the camera. Without even knowing why I’m stuck in place until she finally peeks up at me over the lens and releases me.
“Hello Fossebridge,” I shout and they go wild. Sweat trickles down one side of my face and I wipe it away with my shirt. You’d think it wouldn’t be embarrassing, considering how many intermission and post-game interviews I’ve given when I’m just drenched in it. That’s not the case today. It is terribly embarrassing, but no one seems to notice. They’re all staring at me with complete adoration. Except for Summer. She’s staring through the lens of her camera. Crap, I’m back on Summer again. I’ve got to get this moving along. I quickly recall the remarks I planned and start.
“Did you ever think that we’d get to have the cup here in Fossebridge?”
There’s a lot of shouts in the affirmative and others that are still in disbelief.
“Well, I always dreamed of this day, just like I’m sure you dream of this day too,” I say and point to the boy’s hockey team that’s seated in the third row. “One day this can be you and I’ll come to your ceremony.”
“Eagles! Eagles! Eagles!” the crowd starts to chant for them and I join in a few rounds. When it dies down, I go on, “It was a tough season for the Storm. We lost Hux for eight weeks to that hamstring injury. Our coach, the great Ben Bliss, had to take a leave of absence. And those dreaded Growlers really had our number. But we were strong. We stuck together. We believed we could win and we wouldn’t hear otherwise.”
That gets a round of applause.
“Well, I’m sure you guys were watching.”
“We sure were, Big Mac,” Mr. Knudsen, the hardware store owner, shouts and makes the audience laugh. I laugh along with them.
“We are a hockey town, through and through. And even if I’m not playing in the great state of Minnesota, Fossebridge is always in my heart. I do it for this town,” I say with spirit and they all cheer.
“I do it for Minnesota!”
“I do it for you!”
Incredible sounds of joy fill the auditorium.
"I do it for Trey!"
And just like that, as if I had the power to open the heavens and rain on this figurative parade, I’ve dampened everything. The joy drains away, but I keep going, “This win, this was for Trey.”
Summer looks up from her camera and stares at me, her mouth open, her eyes are large and bright.
The applause is different. Slower, quieter, but somehow more intense. Heads turn and look toward the back of the auditorium and that’s when I see Trey’s parents. I wasn’t sure if they’d be here today. They aren’t clapping. They’re barely moving as all eyes are on them.
I didn’t want to make this even harder for them. I’m so fucking dumb. I had some more material planned, but decide to move right on to the next part. “Who wants a photo with the cup?”
And that gets everyone’s attention real fast. Everyone, but Summer Gunderson. She’s lowered her camera and is still looking over at her aunt and uncle.
It’s been a really long day. After photos with Christopher and the cup, there was a visit to the county hospital, a boat ride around the lake, a dinner with the Fossebridge Booster Club, and an ice cream sundae social on Main Street, where they closed down an entire two blocks.
I was officially off the clock about a half-hour ago, when Christopher’s scheduled events wrapped up. I’d been behind the camera all day long, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but I caught him looking my way several times. When I was packing up, he was still surrounded by people. I caught his eye one last time and waved goodbye. He nodded at me in that classic way of his, ever so slightly with blinding eye contact.
Needing a slice of quiet, I dropped off my gear at home and walked over to the cemetery.
Trey’s grave sits beneath an old oak tree and from a distance, I can see some fresh cut flowers already there. No doubt my Aunt Leslie and Uncle Dave visited today. I haven’t brought anything with me, but that’s okay, Trey wouldn’t mind.
The sun is setting as I take a seat off to the side and stare at his gravestone. The engraved dates still don’t make sense to me. The years are too close together.
“Hey Trey,” I whisper to my cousin and start talking to him in my mind since I always feel a little foolish to talk out loud here.
You should see Christopher with the cup. It’s amazing. A dream come true. You would have loved it. I can totally picture you drinking beer out of the cup out on the boat. Poor Christopher had to put up with all kinds of shenanigans like that. But he would have loved to watch you do it. I would have too.
Tears well in my eyes, but I don’t have time to wipe them away because there’s a rustling sound behind me. I quickly turn to look over my shoulder, freaked out since I’m dumb enough to be alone in a cemetery at dusk.
It’s Christoper and he’s carrying the cup. I get up on my feet and glance around, looking for the cup handlers, for his parents, for all of his fans, but he’s completely alone.
“Hey,” I say and wipe at my eyes with my thumbs.
When Christopher sees this, he frowns at me, the creases around his mouth evening out. “Hey, I’m sorry to disturb you. I can come back.”
“No, it’s fine. What are you doing here? This wasn’t on the schedule.”
“I know. That was on purpose. I didn’t tell anyone about it, except for my dad and the cup handlers. I’m not surprised to see you. Come here a lot?”
“Not anymore. I used to a lot in college, whenever I was home on break.”
He sets the cup down beside the tree and stares at the gravestone, just like I had.
“I’ll give you some time alone,” I tell him and turn to go.
He grabs for my hand and turns me back around. “No, wait. Stay with me.”
“Okay,” I reply. My hand disappears within his grasp when he doesn’t let go and when I feel how warm his skin is, I’m taken back to the night we held hands in his car after the Winter Sports dance, senior year. The memory stings. Especially here.
“I wish he could have seen it,” Christopher whispers. “He loved hockey more than anybody.”
“Yeah, he did,” I answer, but I’m not so sure Trey loved it more than Christopher. Trey was so out there about everything, so bold, that it was easy to assume his surface feelings were how he really felt down deep. That wasn’t always the case. Sometimes he did it for show.
“He would have been the first person in Fossebridge to drink beer out of it, you know,” Christopher says and looks down at me. There’s that small twinkle in his eye that I’ve missed.
“I was thinking the exact same thing,” I say and smile up at him. “Congratulations, by the way. I haven’t really been able to say that yet.”
Half of his mouth lifts into a smile. “Yeah, you did. I got your email.”
“You did? You read it?”
“Uh…yeah. You didn’t get the one I wrote back?” he asks with a full-blown smile now. He lets go of my hand and crosses his arms like he’s offended.
“You wrote back?”
“Yes,” he replies like it’s a no brainer. “Did you think I wouldn’t?”
I pull my phone from my pocket and open my personal email. There are a ton of unread messages, going back weeks. “It’s been a busy summer,” I mumble as I scroll and scroll.
“Just search,” he tells me.
“I know what I’m doing,” I snap back playfully.
“I hate when people don’t search.”
“I know what I’m doing,” I repeat, emphasizing every word.
“Still stubborn, I see.”
I quickly flip him the bird, which makes him burst out laughing, and keep on scrolling. Sure enough, in the mix of messages from the University of Minnesota Alumni Office and sale ads from my favorite camera equipment place is a reply from Christopher. I never expected him to write back. In fact, I kind of forgot that I wrote to him at all. There’d been a huge bash to watch game seven, just like there had been for game six, and game five, and all the playoff games before that. And well, I got a little drunk that night. Lord knows what I actually wrote to him. I’ll deal with that later.
“Touché, Chris,” I say and gaze up at him. He’s gazing right back and I get lost there for a few seconds, looking in his eyes. The cemetery fades away, just as the sun did a few moments ago.
“We should get out of here,” Christopher says.
“Did you drive?” I ask.
“Yeah, dad’s truck. Need a ride?”
I wave him off. “Nah, It’s only three blocks.”
“Come on, it’s dark,” he pleads and he does have a point, although there’s not much to worry about in Fossebridge.
“Sure there’s enough room for me and this old piece of junk?” I tease.
He shakes his head in disgust. “The hockey gods are going to strike you down, you know that right?”
“Not after they see the most excellent package I’m putting together about your day with the cup,” I reply with an edge of pride in my voice.
“Right, your brilliance and talent will win them over for sure,” he says it without an ounce of sarcasm.
I squint at him. “I think you’re being serious.”
“You know I am. I’ve always been your biggest fan.”
I slug him in the arm because I don’t know what on earth to do with that compliment. He laughs it off but gets serious again when he picks up the cup and turns toward Trey’s grave. He holds the cup there for a long quiet moment and I’m guessing, much like me, is talking to Trey in his head.
We head toward the truck in silence. I open the passenger side door and Christopher slides the cup to the center of the bench. I follow it in and let him shut my door. He jogs around to the driver’s side and I smile at his hustle. Ever the sportsman.
“Will you keep hold of it? On the way here I strapped it with the seat belt.”
“Dear lord,” I blurt out and we both laugh. “Yes, I will hold onto the giant trophy in case we get in an accident on the three-block drive to my house.”
“You’re lucky it’s just the two of us with the way you’re talking about the cup.”
“You mean it can’t hear me?” I ask and look around the behemoth to see Christopher’s reaction. He’s doing that half-grin thing again and I remember now how it’s always been one of his most adorable features.
“You know how to humble a guy, you know that?”
“Well, Jesus. You’re only riding in a car with the most sought after trophy in professional sports, with the guy who scored the game-winning goal to get it, and you do not seem impressed.”
“Of course I’m impressed, you weirdo. I think I’m nervous. This thing has a life of its own, right? Like, maybe I should introduce myself formerly to it or something?”
“Hey, if it makes you feel better, Summer. He probably won’t respond, he’s a real dick like that.”
“It’s a little surreal though, right? It’s like we’re back in high school and you’re driving me home from The Biscuit, except there’s the object that has embodied all of your dreams wedged between us.”
“There’s always something,” he mumbles and takes a left turn while I hold onto the cup so it doesn’t fall over on him. Christ, this is weird.
We get to my house much too fast. He pulls into the driveway and puts the truck into park.
“How long are you in town for?” I ask and lean forward to look over at him.
He leans forward too, resting on his arms over the steering wheel. “Still trying to figure that out.”
“Well, maybe I’ll see you around.”
Classic Christopher. He simply smiles at me and doesn’t respond, so I have no idea if I’ll see him or not. I hop out of the truck and we work together to move the cup over to my seat and strap it in.
“Goodnight, you two. Be good. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Summer Gunderson.”
Christopher waits until I’ve unlocked and opened the door to my house before he starts to pull away. I wave at him and he rolls down his window and waves back. It’s a funny sight, to watch him drive away with the cup.
“Hi, honey,” Momma says from the family room. She’s watching one of her favorite singing competition shows and looks absolutely beat. “How was Christopher?”
“Good. Did you get the see the cup?”
“From a distance. Pretty cool,” she says, but I know in reality that hockey has never really been her thing. She’s a southerner in the great white north. “Your dad would have loved it.”
“Yeah, he would have,” I say somberly and look over at his portrait on the mantle. He died fighting in Iraq when I was 10 years old. That’s when we moved to Fossebridge, so we could be close to my grandparents and my dad’s brother Dave and his family.
I plop down on the couch and pull out my phone. Time to face the music and see just how embarrassing that email is that I sent to Christopher.
Holy shit, you won. Like - you’re totally a cup champion!!! Seeing you score that goal was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m so proud of you. OMG - you were amazing. I can’t wait to see you. You have to bring the cup home, right? That’s what they always do. You’re one of them now! They’re going to engrave your flipping name on it. God, you looked so good skating around with the cup hoisted like that. Hoist is a weird word. Yuck! It rhymes with moist. Now that it’s over you can shave!! Bring back Clean Cut CHRIS. I miss your face. Okay bye.
Dear Mother of Dragons, kill me with fire because that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever written to another human being. I roll over onto my side and groan into the back cushion of the couch.
“What’s wrong?” Momma asks.
“Oh nothing,” I reply. “I just can’t ever face Christopher MacCormack again.”
Momma laughs at me, not with me. “And why is that?”
I hold out my phone. She leans over and snatches it away eagerly. The next twenty seconds are silent and then there’s a big burst of laughter coming from the woman who is supposed to love and nurture me.
“Momma!” I whine.
“Baby,” she replies and tosses my phone back, knocking me in the head. “Oops, sorry.”
“Seriously?” I ask and turn over, so I can give her the evil eye. “Did you say oops sorry when you dropped me on my head as a baby? Cause clearly there’s something wrong with me. Why else would I send him such an embarrassing message?”
“Ah, it’s fine. He probably didn’t read it.”
“Oh, he read it. He told me so.”
“Oh,” she pauses and stifles a laugh. “Did he write back?”
“So he says.”
“Well?” she asks with saucers for eyes, her impatience is always so obvious. “What did he say?”
“Haven’t read it yet?”
She’s flabbergasted. “What? Why?”
“Because I’d rather have the couch swallow me whole.”
“Do you want me to read it?” she asks with a little too much eagerness.
“Mother. Please be less desperate to be in my business.”
“Oh please, you want me to read it.”
And I know what’s coming next because she can’t help herself. “You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. You want answers?”
Of course, I play along. “I want the truth!”
“You can’t handle the truth!” she shouts and smacks her hand down on the arm of her recliner.
“You know there’s a lot more to that scene and I’m pretty sure we’re getting it out of order,” I tell her.
She shrugs. “Who cares? We do the best parts.”
I roll off the couch onto the floor and slowly get to my feet. My whole body hurts from the long day strapped in and filming. “I’m going to take a bath.”
“You’re gonna leave me hangin’?” she protests.
“You don’t always get what you want,” I answer.
“But you get what you need,” she says, not able to help herself.
“Goodnight, Momma,” I say and lean down to kiss her cheek.
As the bathwater runs, I take a deep breath and open Christopher’s email back to me. It only has six words, but those six words pack a punch.
Thanks. I miss your face more.
Thank you for reading!